Can humanity live within the ‘doughnut’?
Global Doughnut Day, commemorated on Nov. 13, was meant to celebrate and amplify local community-led festivals around the world that are centered on the idea of doughnut economics.
Conceptualized by thinkers and advocates led by Kate Raworth of Oxford University, doughnut economics pushes for a new perspective of bringing about regenerative and distributive dynamics to our current economic system characterized by poverty and inequality, coupled with unsustainable production and consumption.
To further understand doughnut economics, think of the doughnut’s two concentric rings: a social foundation which ensures that no one is left behind—those who may be falling short on life’s necessities—and an ecological ceiling to ensure that the world does not collectively overshoot its planetary boundaries. Nestled in these two sets of rings is the doughnut-shaped space that is both “ecologically safe and socially just”—space in which humanity can hopefully thrive.
Doughnut economics traces its roots to alternatives to paradigms that recognize the failures of mainstream development thinking. It can be recalled that mainstream development thinking came in the aftermath of World War II, when development was framed within the Bretton Woods institutions and economic development paradigms. Critics of these institutions have stated that these further reinforced economic dogmas of neoliberalism, in particular privatization, trade liberalization, deregulation, and austerity programs.
Along with other alternative paradigms of development namely well-being economy, degrowth, and ecological economics, doughnut economics seeks to rethink the way our current economic system has been characterized by the pursuit of endless gross domestic product growth. These perspectives seek to recognize that our economy is embedded within, and dependent upon, society and the planet.
The first Global Doughnut Day is an opportune time as various stakeholders under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) third Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) on Plastic Pollution are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. For the INC-3, the second INC meeting in Paris in May this year yielded a “zero draft” of the Global Plastics Treaty that will be the basis of the negotiations this week.
Ahead of this meeting, the Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty has also issued its comment on the zero draft of the proposed plastics treaty. Among the key recommendations are: “a dedicated multilateral fund, plastic pollution fees, and mandatory extended producer responsibility [that will] provide financial resources for upscaling the reduction [of plastic and a] safe and sustainable reuse [system].”
According to UNEP, extended producer responsibility or EPR is an “environmental policy approach that encourages plastic waste reduction through (1) the elimination of unnecessary plastic packaging of products; (2) the development of more environmentally friendly and recyclable packaging design; and (3) the recovery of plastic packaging from the trash in order to reuse or recycle them back into the production process.”
The Philippines has an Extended Producer Responsibility Act which lapsed into law last year. However, environmental groups have opposed it since it only focuses on plastic waste recovery rather than reduction, and is seen as a concession to plastic-using companies. EPR is an ecological principle. However, the real essence of EPR seemed to have been downplayed in this policy, an example of how policies can be greenwashed in favor of large multinational corporations.
At the global arena, the oil and gas industry seemed to have been powerful in influencing these spaces. Civil society groups and governments must be wary of attempts to greenwash negotiation processes in this week’s INC-3 and the upcoming 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties climate negotiations in Dubai at the end of the month.
As the world wrestles with wars and conflicts, poverty and inequality are felt in most parts of the world, along with ecological crises like biodiversity loss, climate change, and plastic pollution crisis. Pope Francis’ recent Papal Encyclical’s “Laudate Deum” then comes into mind: “Even if we do not reach this point of no return, it is certain that the consequences would be disastrous and precipitous measures would have to be taken, at enormous cost and with grave and intolerable economic and social effects.”
The question is, can we live within a just and safe space for the people and our planet?
Jed Alegado is a Ph.D. candidate at Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University. He has worked with nonprofit organizations and environmental movements in the Asia Pacific region, doing advocacy, campaigns, and communications work for more than a decade. He is also a part-time lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University.